UK Anti-Terror Programme Lists Reading Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World as Signs of Extremism

A boy reads a book next to copies of British writer George Orwell's 1984 at Hong Kong's an
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Reading George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World among dozens of classic books and television shows is a sign that you could be a far-right extremist, a leaked document from a UK anti-terrorism programme reportedly claims.

A 2019 document said to have leaked from the UK’s much-criticised Prevent anti-terrorism programme has claimed that someone reading George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World should be viewed as potential warning signs of extremism, with the internal paper listing a wide range of other seminal pieces of media as being red flags indicating someone may hold radical views.

The leak comes shortly after a government investigation into the programme found it to disproportionately focus on alleged right-wing extremists at the expense of dealing with the very real problem of Islamic fundamentalism in Britain.

According to an article by Douglas Murray in The Spectator, the alleged document created by Prevent’s ‘Research Information and Communications Unit’  (RICU) lists a wide range of films, TV shows, novels and non-fiction texts that may indicate someone is being radicalised if they chose to watch or read them.

Many of these texts are classic works of British fiction, such as the aforementioned anti-authoritarian Brave New World and 1984, but also the likes of John Milton’s Paradise Lost as well as the complete works of William Shakespeare.

The list also includes a number of seminal works of philosophy, including Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, as well as Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

The inclusion of this latter text is particularly notable considering its importance to modern-day British conservatism, whom Edmund Burke is widely credited as being the founder of.

Not all of the works indicating someone could be an extremist in Prevent’s eyes are classic works of fiction or philosophy, however, with the counter-terror org’s document also claims that an individual’s viewing of a number of mainstream films and comedy shows could betray their latent extremist beliefs.

Such problematic productions include the classic BBC sitcom Yes, Minister, which satirises the power dynamics at the heart of British government.

Also listed as a potential red flag is The Thick of It, a far more modern comedy detailing the lives of politicians, as well as the cut-throat political advisors who stalk the halls of Westminster making sure they do not step out of line.

No doubt the most puzzling inclusion in the list of potential extremist programmes though is Great British Railway Journeys, a gentle and affectionate BBC documentary series involving former Conservative Party Minister Michael Portillo travelling around the British countryside and enjoying Britain’s historic train network.

Other pieces of media that also made the extremism list include classic films The Bridge Over the River KwaiThe Dam Busters and The Great Escape.

Many netizens and political commentators have responded to the leaked list with a combination of outrage and bemusement, with one historian, Andrew Roberts, telling the Daily Mail that the document was “truly extraordinary”.

“This is the reading list of anyone who wants a civilised, liberal, cultured education,” he remarked. “It includes some of the greatest works in the Western canon and in some cases – such as Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent – powerful critiques of terrorism. Burke, Huxley, Orwell and Tolkien were all anti-totalitarian writers.”

One netizen meanwhile remarked that the compiled list of possible extremist texts was “unironically a very good reading/watching list”.

Regardless of the level of upset the document has caused, it leaking represents the kind of PR disaster that officials at the Prevent programme likely do not want right now, with the anti-terrorism organisation already under fire for allegedly focusing on the comparatively low threat of the far-right at the expense of dealing with the repeatedly proven threat of Islamic extremism.

According to a report into the programme commissioned by the UK government, Prevent disproportionally focused on alleged extremism on Britain’s political right, even going so far as to allegedly conflate “populist conservative voices” with violent extremists.

“Yet when it comes to Islamism only the most violently fascist jihadist groups appear to be identified,” the report complained.

Such bias appears to have impacted the programme’s effectiveness, with over half of the terror attacks carried out in Britain since 2016 who had previously been referred to the programme.

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